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A Trad Take on the Barbie Movie

This review contains my bigger thoughts from this year’s summer blockbuster, Barbie.

Spoilers ahead.

The record-breaking summer movie plastered in pink was an upbeat, heartfelt and fun film which asked a lot of important questions about societal roles and identity. Two camps dominate the Barbie discussion, one adoring it and the other, primarily made conservatives, disowning it. Barbie does have its flaws like any other movie, especially in a day where Hollywood is drowning in left-wing views, but there is still value in what this movie provides to its viewers.

I want to begin by addressing two critiques of the film: the transgender actor cast as the doctor Barbie and the fact that this movie was not intended for kids.

Yes, as a woman, it’s silly to get a man to play a female role. Barbie can be anything, but Ken cannot. Barbie cannot become Ken nor can Ken become Barbie, but the character had such a minor role that the trans argument can have its place in a different article. No thank you, next.

The complaint that Barbie was not a children’s film is an issue of misplaced expectations. It was not marketed toward children or middle aged men. The writers used childhood characters to express adult views, it’s a common tactic among storytellers.

Speaking of story, this one began by introducing Barbie, played by Margo Robbie, who is most definitely not “mid.” Robbie’s co-star, Ryan Gosling, played her boyfriend Ken. The actors nailed their characters, even down to the way they strategically moved their limbs in the same ways the real dolls can move. Barbie Land was created to mimic the way children play with the dolls, even down to plastic pools, air showers and empty tea cups.

While Barbie enjoys her “perfect day,” the narrator tells us that Ken’s entire existence rests on Barbie looking at him. Barbie Land is an over exaggerated representation of a world dominated solely by women. Ken is frustrated with Barbie for not reciprocating his advances and is jealous of other Kens.

The audience sympathizes with Ken. In context, Ken represents what a woman’s life is under a patriarchal society but he also represents some emotions men feel in 2023. In an attempt to end misogyny, the problem has been overcorrected by withdrawing respect for men and discouraging them from pursuing characteristics of traditional manhood.

Ken is also dissatisfied with his job which is simply “Beach.” He wants to pursue something more. Without his needs met, Ken is depressed and seeks to over correct his issues as the plot progresses.

Through a series of unfortunate events for Barbie, she realizes she must travel to the “real world” to keep her body from impending dysmorphia. Ken tags along on her reluctant adventure to LA where the iconic rollerblading scene takes place. Barbie is shocked to see men treating her poorly and less women in positions like construction work; which in Barbie Land is dominated by women. In contrast, Ken is on cloud 9 in a world where he is respected.

Just as Barbie Land is an over exaggerated representation of a world dominated solely by women, the “real world” is an over exaggerated version of a world dominated by men. Neither one is a perfect existence.

Ken learns of the patriarchy during his time in the real world and decides to establish one back home in Barbie Land. When Barbie returns to find her home now dominated by men, she is understandably distraught. Barbie has expressed in other parts of the movie, she, like every other human, hates change. Creating a patriarch was Ken’s attempt at over correcting his problem of earning no respect from Barbie.

The patriarchy is not all Ken learned about in the real world. Barbie and Ken trying to live as humans offers some of the film’s best comedic moments. The couple is arrested twice within the first day of being there, once for stealing clothes because they didn’t know they had to pay. Watching Barbie attempt to drink real liquid water was also a fun touch adding to the magic of imagination when playing with dolls.

One of the changes the Ken patriarchy brought that deserves the spotlight is the idea of a “long-term long-distance low commitment girlfriend.” Men not committing is a direct side effect of the feminist movement which has allowed lazy behavior from men and encouraged promiscuity among women. After Ken’s patriarch collapses, he echoes this as he mourns his dream of the Barbie Dreamhouse becoming their house. Ken even sings a song wondering if his new identity as a domineering man will make Barbie respect him.

The emphasis of power imbalances between the sexes is the primary focus of this film. The idea of incompatible power balances is nothing new. Humans longed for more power two chapters into Genesis. The issues Barbie explores are very real. The problem is the solution Barbie provides.

At the end of the movie, the Barbies jokingly agree to give the Kens as “much power as women have in the real world.” The solution to a power imbalance is not one sex ruling over another, it’s learning to compliment one another which is where Barbie fails.

It is somewhat shocking that the film could not end in complementarianism because it explored the pitfalls of both a male dominated society and a female dominated society. The only logical conclusion thereafter would be to find a way to be equal and champion each other’s differences. But Lord knows no one showed up to the Barbie movie hoping for logic.

Barbie came so close to this answer at two key moments. After Ken Land fails, Barbie apologizes to Ken and admits she took him for granted. In this heartfelt moment, the audience sees how Barbie’s exposure to the real world gave her a needed taste of Ken’s experience in Barbie Land.

Sympathies were raised not only for the Kens but also the Barbies and human women. The human woman who joined Barbie in Barbie Land, played by America Ferrera, presented a touching speech about the contradictory expectations put on women.

“…You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people…”

Read the full monologue here.

This speech was relatable to the female, dare I say human, experience. There is always a “perfect” middle ground between being too “this” or not enough “that” we are all striving for. The movie addresses the struggle of living a human life between the perfection of Eden and the destruction after the fall.

The film's depiction of the struggles women deal with due to social expectations paired with Ken’s need for respect and purpose was valuable commentary on the needs both sexes have that our culture does not meet.

In a later scene, Ferrera declares the original intent of the feminist movement. She says it’s ok to be a mom, or have a career. She says it’s ok to be a mom and have a career. And it’s ok to have neither. The original feminist movement, and the intent of Barbie becoming anything, was to provide equal choices to women.

Both Barbie and Ken attempt to explore who they are in relation to each other and separate from each other which raises multiple questions about where their identities are found. Barbie meets her creator, Ruth, who did indeed give her the identity of “stereotypical Barbie.” But the creator encourages Barbie to pursue a new dream of becoming a human. Ruth tells Barbie she cannot control her anymore than she can control her own daughter.

Raising questions about where identity is found gives an intriguing glimpse into how a secular culture is searching for who they are outside of a creator. Barbie holds a dysfunctional deist view of the world in which the creator lets its creation determine its “true” purpose.

In closing, I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared to have such deep thoughts about the Barbie movie. But a movie as fun and thought provoking as this is a fine way to spend a Saturday night wearing pink.

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